Old hermit Heron was a great faster. He used to live alone so that the other brothers would not disturb him and oblige him to eat. So, he stopped going to Church. He wouldn’t go to Church even at Easter.
His isolation though, leads him to fantasies and gave him the impression that he has reached the highest levels of holiness. As a result, he welcomed every thought that came to him by the enemy, the devil. One night the devil told him: “Fall into this deep well and you will see that God will protect you because Discernment – Measure of comparison of your virtue”. So he fell into the well and the brothers lifted him out half dead. In three days he died.
It is evident, from the above story that a Christian faces two serious dangers. One is the fantasy of perfection and self-sufficiency and the other the inconsiderate and excessive zeal (lack of knowing oneself) for great achievements in the field of holiness and virtue. This situation, however may lead to extremities and in turn to failure. There is lack of spiritual balance, of measure. The impression is given that spiritual life is an eccentricity, an oddity. Very often Discernment – Measure of comparison extremities lead to unhealthy and pathological situations.
Spiritual life, though, is something entirely different. It is in reality a moral and dynamic struggle for affecting the “aim of life” which leads to “God”.
What is then needed, for the achievement of spiritual life within these frames? The answer to this question and
guidance for its realization is given by the fathers of the desert. And the way they point is discernment. St. Cassianos writes to Leontios: “extremities on both sides are harmful too; both extreme fasting
and too much eating; extreme vigilance and too much sleep because we know of Discernment – Measure of comparison certain people who were not defeated by too much eating, but were defeated by extreme fasting and slipped into the same sin as a result of illness because of such extreme fasting.
The aim of St. Cassianos is to help in the realization of measure and balance. And the most effective means is discernment, i.e. the ability to distinguish in his struggle towards holiness what someone should do and what not to. What to strive for and what to avoid. To distinguish what comes from God and what from the devil. Discernment St. Cassianos says “is the Discernment – Measure of comparison Queen and the greatest of all virtues”, because he considers it the virtue – measure of all other virtues. “It teaches man, after discarding extremities on both ways, to walk in the Right way.”
This virtue, however, is neither an intellect nor moral achievement neither a human ability but a gift from the Holy Spirit, (A’ Corinthians 12:4). Its essence is from the Holy Ghost. Its achievement is of course the result of spiritual struggles that attract the Grace of the Holy Spirit.
With discernment man acquires “positive thought”. What does that mean? It means the internal certainty and security of man in Discernment – Measure of comparison his course of life both in his daily decisions, as well as the decisions in serious turns of his life.
The problem of choice would not have existed if there was only one way to follow. But there are many ways and the question arises: “What is acceptable unto the Lord?” (Eph. 5:10). It is here that the valuable virtue of discernment is needed.
Once in the desert St. Antonios was discussing with other fathers about the question “Which is the greatest virtue that can protect a monk from the devil’s deceits”. The answers differed. They talked about fasting, vigilance Discernment – Measure of comparison, charity etc. St. Antonios said: “All that has been said is good and useful. We should not forget though, that many have fasted and lived a hermit’s life. But they have fallen into sin. And this because of lack of discernment. “Discernment being the eye and the light of the soul investigates all that man has in his heart and all that he does and distinguishes and separates everything bad and not liked by God and removes the error away from him”.
The Bible speaks extensively about discernment in the Proverbs where it is called Discernment – Measure of comparison guide of life, intellect, feeling, wisdom, prudence.
At the same time, there exist many stories about discernment such as the following:
Two monks decided to go deep into the desert. They had decided not to accept food coming from man any more. They wanted to persuade themselves that God would miraculously send them food. After a lot of hardship they fell into the hands of savages of the deserts. The savages, however, felt sorry for them. So, they offered them food. One accepted it and lived. The other did not and died of exhaustion.
Something that someone will notice in Discernment – Measure of comparison these stories is the fact that internal and in depth spiritual life is not found in the eccentric, the original or unusual. There are of course exceptions which only prove the rule. We may bow to such situations. But it doesn’t mean that everyone is entitled to blackmail God so that he would be granted the gift of Simon. Grace is “given” (Matth. 19:11) to few.
It is a fact that the danger of counterfeiting and degeneration of spiritual life is lying in. Slipping is not difficult. And there may be people who may seem to be struggling spiritually but Discernment – Measure of comparison have no love or gratitude, only selfishness.
But how is the virtue of discernment acquired? A long and persistent attempt to live a spiritual life is required. St. Cassianos in an effort to answer this question says: “Abba Moses said that true discernment cannot be effected except by confessing to the holy fathers in real humility not only our actions but everything we have within our hearts too.”
Therefore the following three elements are required.
(a) Humility. In a specific form. Knowledge of our inadequacy. The poor in spirit runs to the more mature. Without selfishness and Discernment – Measure of comparison the mood of “knowing everything”. “Poor in spirit” indeed.
(b) The exaltation of partiality over impartiality in spiritual matters concerning ourselves.
We often regard as perfect what is ours. Misleading is
not difficult. Someone else outside ourselves can see more clearly; can judge more calmly. Can weigh more accurately and correctly. Without abolishing our personal character and responsibility there is the participation of others in the field of our spiritual completion. With love, trust and criticism others prevent us from falling. Redemption and confession are thus emphasized.
(c) The presence of a Spiritual Father. A Spiritual Father with whom each and everyone Discernment – Measure of comparison of us should have close contact. A Spiritual Father who will direct, teach, guide.
Where shall we find one? It really is a gift from God. It can not of course be the first we happen to meet. Especially not one for everybody. Nor someone because everyone goes to him. It is not a matter of fashion. And St. Cassianos adds:
Abba Moses said: “We should not hide our thoughts from our Spiritual Fathers, but we should neither tell our thoughts to any father we happen to meet; we should confess to spiritual fathers who are adorned with discernment Discernment – Measure of comparison, but not essentially white-haired by age.”
So it is not a matter of white hair but spirituality, prudence, discernment.
We should search for him though. And when we find him we should take advantage of his presence.
This is the way to discernment. This is the way that Samuel, Paul and so many Fathers of the desert have walked.
They said through their life “we should try to acquire the gift of discernment with all our strength and every haste a gift which will protect is from any extremity”.
This is what we should all say. And pray with Discernment – Measure of comparison all our heart to God to grant us this gift.
It is so necessary for us.